The worst vehicle I ever owned was not a car. It was not a truck either. What was it? It was a van. A Ford van. A 1978 Ford Club Wagon (Econoline) van. But it was not a delivery van. It was a passenger van. Yes, back in the 70s, even after the 73 and 78 gas crises (shortages), it became acceptable for families with young children to buy Ford, Chevy or Dodge vans as passenger vehicles. And, boy, did I fall into that trap. Every aspect of the ownership experience with this vehicle was a nightmare. Even the acquisition process was a horror. Let’s begin with how our van came to be a Ford rather than a Chevy or a Dodge or even a VW van.
I was not necessarily a Ford man, although I was also definitely never a GM guy or a Mopar person. I just liked the looks of the mid-70s Ford vans. The Dodges seemed to have too short of a hood and the Chevys, I don’t know exactly what I disliked about their style but I just found the the Ford vans more pleasing to the eye. On top of that I worked with a very nice, very intelligent guy who swore by his 390ci Ford van. My preference was for an E-100 (1/2 ton) van but those all seemed to have the short wheelbase and the swing open side doors, rather than the sliding cargo doors which I preferred because they looked cooler. So after several trips to a San Jose Ford dealer we finally zeroed in on a 3/4 ton van that had the sliding side door and two ‘bucket’ seats upfront with a bus style partial bench seat behind them. The rest of the cabin was bare bones. The headliner only went back past the front seats. Other than that bus bench, there was no upholstery behind the front seats, just painted metal and exposed mechanisms and wiring. The van had the 390ci V-8 and the Cruise-o-matic AT and PS and AC and a radio.
The car I intended to replace was a 1975 Datsun (ne Nissan) 610, a very neat little 4-door sedan whose only sins were having survived two major accidents and a blown head gasket (my bad.) That is the car I drove to that Ford dealer to trade in on my dream van.
The dealership was a typical operation set up explicitly to rip off the customer. The first order of business was always to separate the customer from his car keys so as to ‘check out’ the trade in. While that review was taking place in the background, the always awkward, mind numbing haggling over the sale price and trade in value took place in a cubicle adjacent to the showroom floor. In this case the haggling led nowhere and I eventually rejected their proposed terms and asked that my car keys be returned so the wife and I could retrieve our car and go home. They absolutely refused to return my car keys. My wife and I were literally being held against our will in that hateful cubicle. As my demands became more heated their refusals became more adamant. I eventually became so agitated that they apparently feared for their safety and ‘found’ my keys and released us. We drove home not in a dream van but in our neat little 75 Datsun.